Siddhartha Gautama Buddha For Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you’re a prince or a princess, living in a giant, luxurious palace. There your parents make sure that you have everything you could ever want or need: lots of toys, fine clothes, the best education. You’re surrounded by beautiful gardens and expensive things. You have servants to clean up after you, bring your food, and help with everything. When you’re not learning from private tutors, you spend your days swimming, practicing archery and swordsmanship, and riding horses. The palace is so massive, it’s your entire world and you never even need to leave. 

Now imagine you decide to give that all up. You’re not happy with that life. You wonder if life has a greater meaning. You wonder if possessions can ever make people truly happy and content. This was the life Siddhartha Gautama found himself in. You might have heard of him: now, we call him Buddha. 

The story of how Siddhartha became Buddha begins even before his birth. Siddhartha’s father was king of a small kingdom in northern India in the sixth century BCE over 2,500 years ago!  Several years before Siddhartha was born, the king was visited by sages, or wise men, who told him his son would be either a great king, or a great holy man. Of course, Siddhartha’s father wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and be a great king.  So when Siddhartha was born in 567 BCE, his father decided to shelter his son from the world, so he wouldn’t know about suffering and death. He thought that if Siddhartha never saw bad things in the world, he wouldn’t want to fix them, and so he wouldn’t want to become a holy man. 

So Siddhartha grew up surrounded by all the comforts and privileges money could buy. When he became a young man, he married a woman named Gopa. He seemed to have it all, but the plan Siddhartha’s father made for him to become a great king was about to fall apart. Instead of accepting the life of luxury that he was given, Siddhartha grew restless living in the palace. One day, he asked his father to let him go on a chariot ride to see the city around the palace. His father agreed, but told the chariot driver to stay in the richer parts of the city, close to the palace, to avoid letting Siddhartha see people who were poor or suffering. 

Siddhartha set out in the chariot with his driver. Before long, they saw an old man, slowly hobbling along the road, looking as if he might fall over at any moment. Siddhartha had never seen such an old man, and he asked his driver what was wrong with him. 

His driver replied, “He is very old. His body has grown weak with age. You too will grow old someday. All people do.”

Siddhartha was disturbed, but asked him to drive on. Later in the ride, they saw a sick man lying by the side of the road. He was groaning and looked very unhappy. Again, Siddhartha asked what was wrong with the man. 

His driver replied, “He is sick with a terrible disease. Everyone gets sick sometimes. Someday, you will get sick.”

Siddhartha felt terrible, seeing this man suffering, but they continued their ride through the city. 

On their way back to the palace, they came across a funeral procession. People were crying and moaning. For a third time, Siddhartha asked his chariot driver what was happening.

Again, his driver replied. “Someone has died, and these people are his friends and family. They are mourning for him.”  

When Siddhartha returned home, he could not stop thinking about the old man, the sick man, and the funeral. He thought about these things happening to his father and mother, to his wife, and to himself. He realized that all the treasure in the palace, all the servants waiting on him, all the beautiful things surrounding him, could not prevent him or anyone else from the sad things he sad. He realized that he wanted to find a way to help people overcome suffering. 

Once he realized these things, Siddhartha knew he could no longer live an easy life in the palace. So one day, he said goodbye to his family, and set out to find the cause of suffering. He cut his hair and lived as an ascetic – someone who chooses to live in poverty and simplicity. He studied meditation with great holy men and discussed the problem of suffering with them, but after many years of living this way, he still didn’t know why it happened, or how he could prevent it.

Finally, he decided to sit and meditate under a bodhi tree. He vowed not to leave until he had the answer to the problem of human suffering.  Siddhartha sat meditating day and night, still and calm as a statue, for six days. On the sixth day, he opened his eyes and realized he understood the nature of suffering. He became enlightened and from then on was known as Buddha, which means awakened one. 

For the rest of his life, Buddha travelled throughout India, teaching others about what he had discovered. He taught people the four noble truths he had realized about suffering. The first truth is that everyone suffers and has hard things happen to them. It’s just part of life. 

The second truth is that we suffer because we are always wanting more, and trying to hold onto what we have. This might sound surprising. Didn’t he start his quest because he saw people who were suffering because they were old, sick, and dying? Buddha thought that the real reason we suffer is not because bad things happen to us, but because we allow negative feelings and desires to take over our thinking. If we’re sick, we lie around feeling sorry for ourselves, and wishing we were well. But then when we’re healthy, we think of other things we want, but don’t have, and we still suffer. 

Think about a time when you really wanted a new toy or game. It probably felt very unfair that you didn’t have it, and then, if you did get it, you might have been happy for a short time, but then you were just back to normal and wanted something new. We become attached to things, or even ideas of things, and those things are not permanent. This keeps us spending all our time wanting things we don’t have, and worrying we’ll lose what we do have. He taught that things like toys and games and other things we might buy don’t really make us happy deep down and any happiness we do feel doesn’t last.

The third truth is that we can overcome suffering. Once we overcome suffering, Buddha thought, we could reach a state of nirvana, or perfect peace and happiness, just as he did when he meditated under the bodhi tree. 

Finally, the fourth truth tells us how to overcome suffering. The way Buddha thought we overcome suffering is by following what he called the “eightfold path.” I won’t go over all eight parts of the path, but basically, to follow the eightfold path, we must always try to improve ourselves: this means being kind and honest; try not to harm anyone or anything; and act with compassion. We must also learn to pay attention to their own thoughts. As we pay attention to our thoughts we can better understand the thoughts that make us feel sad. This helps us think in a new way. This paying attention to our thoughts is called meditation.

Buddha taught that following the eight-fold path creates good karma.  Karma is the idea that everything you do has a consequence, whether good or bad. Kind actions tend to have positive consequences, and unkind actions, negative consequences. This isn’t a consequence like a reward or a punishment – it’s just a thing that happens as a result of an action. He taught that by building up a lot of good karma, you can reach nirvana, a state of true enlightenment. 

Buddha spent the rest of his life travelling around India, teaching what he had discovered to anyone who wanted to learn. He encouraged his followers to try out the practices he taught for themselves, to see how well they worked, and to gather in communities to learn and help each other. Community was important, because Buddha knew that to be truly happy, people need to feel compassion and kindness for both themselves and others. This is called metta in Buddhism.

After its beginnings in India, Buddhism spread throughout South and East Asia, and was practiced widely in Tibet, Bhutan, Thailand, China, and Japan, among others. Today, people around the world practice Buddhism in different forms. For some it’s a religion, but for others it’s simply a way of looking at life.

Like Buddha taught, you can take the time to meditate each day. Meditating is a good chance to breathe deeply and slow your thoughts. It can also help you look closely at your thoughts. Your thoughts often lead to how you’re feeling. So if you have lots of negative thoughts those may be causing negative feelings. Breathing deeply and clearing your mind can give you the positive energy you need to help yourself and help others. There are a lot of great ways to start meditating. You can find videos, podcasts and apps, that can get your started. But the simplest way is to just set a timer and try and sit and relax during that time while breathing deeply. 

Also, like Buddha taught, remember that things that we buy won’t always make us happy. Toys eventually break, or they go out of fashion, and we’ll always want something new. Think about how you might turn your attention to more important things like spending time with your family and friends, learning something new, or doing good for others. These are things that last longer and will give you greater, deeper joy.   

I hope you enjoyed this episode about Buddha. Be sure to check in next Monday for a new episode!

Sources

Fields, Rick. “Who Is the Buddha?” in: Tricycle, Spring 1997. https://tricycle.org/magazine/who-was-buddha-2/

Meyers, Rachel. Curiosity Chronicles: Snapshots of Ancient History. Little Monster Schooling, 2017.

Nagaraja, Dharmachari. Buddha at Bedtime.Watkins, 2016.

The Story of Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Making of Hamilton

Have you heard about the musical Hamilton? Maybe you’ve seen the movie on Disney Plus, listened to the music, or actually seen a live performance. My kids and I enjoy listening to the music. It’s catchy and fun to sing along, and what’s also great is we learn something new while having a good time together! The musical Hamilton has been seen on Disney Plus and Broadway millions of times and has come to be one of the most popular musicals of all time. But how did the musical come to be? Do you know who wrote the story and lyrics and music? If you guessed Lin-Manuel Miranda you were right!

Lin-Manuel Miranda was born January 16, 1980 in New York, New York. 

Lin-Manuel’s parents were from Puerto Rican. Puerto Rico is an island and U.S. territory in the Carribean. Lin-Manuel  grew up in a Hispanic neighbourhood in northern Manhattan with his family. His unique name was inspired by a poem about the Vietnam War . His father worked in politics and helped  several of the mayors of New York City, and his mother was a psychologist. They often played salsa and show tunes, which are songs from musicals, at home.. 

During childhood and his teens, Lin-Manuel spent at least one month each year with his grandparents in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico. Lin-Manuel attended Hunter College Elementary School and Hunter College High School. He wrote some of his first musicals while growing up in school. 

Lin-Manuel saw his first Broadway musical, Les Misérables, when he was seven, and it made a life-long impression on him. His tastes also ran to hip-hop and R&B, and he became an excellent rapper. In high school he won the lead role in the musical The Pirates of Penzance and was very active in the school’s drama program. 

In school he met Stephen Sondheim, who later became a mentor to him, along with fellow musical-theatre legend John Kander. Lin-Manuel went on to study theatre at Wesleyan University, where he continued to perform in musicals and to write his own songs and shows.

It was there in 1999 that he wrote the first draft of his musical In the Heights, which was set in Washington Heights, a northern Manhattan neighbourhood similar to that of his own childhood. At college Lin-Manuel wrote and directed several other musicals and acted in many other productions, ranging from musicals to Shakespeare.

After graduating from college in 2002, Lin-Manuel  started an acting career, appearing in films and on television. He also performed with a hip-hop improvisation group, Freestyle Love Supreme around New York City and at festivals, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. 

At this time Lin-Manuel  continued to develop In the Heights with his friend Thomas Kail. The musical blended hip-hop and salsa. Lin-Manuel wrote the music and lyrics for the show. He also co-wrote a book with Quiara Alegría Hudes that is the complete script and all the song lyrics from the show. 

In the Heights opened Off-Broadway in February 2007 and ran until July, with Lin-Manuel in the lead role. It won two Drama Desk Awards. In the Heights had its Broadway debut in March 2008 and won four Tony Awards, including those for best musical and best original score. They also nominated the show for the Pulitzer Prize for drama, and its original-cast recording won the 2008 Grammy Award for best musical show album. 

Also, In the Heights will be available to everyone as a movie in theaters and on HBO in June 2021.

While Lin-Manuel was on vacation in 2008, he read a book about the U.S. Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. The biography was written by Ron Chernow and told Hamilton’s life story. Lin-Manuel was inspired by Hamilton’s life, from his difficult childhood in the Caribbean island to his move to New York and the part he played in the American Revolution,  eventually becoming the U.S. secretary of the treasury. Lin-Manuel saw an important story that needed to be told and the wheels in his head started to turn. 

In Alexander Hamilton’s story, Lin-Manuel saw one that was very similar to that of the simple beginnings of many famous rappers. It inspired him to write a rap about Alexander Hamilton. In 2009 he later performed it for  the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word before President Barack Obama and others.

Lin-Manuel later said he spent a year writing the Hamilton song “My Shot”, changing it countless times for every verse to reflect Alexander Hamilton’s smarts. By 2012, Lin-Manuel was performing an extended set of pieces based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, which he then referred to as the Hamilton Mixtape. The New York Times called it “an obvious game changer”.

The resulting show, which Lin-Manuel called “Hamilton” was smart, energetic, catchy, and immediately popular with audiences, and featured a racially diverse cast, with Lin-Manuel starring in the main role of Alexander Hamilton. In January 2015 the musical opened Off-Broadway at New York City’s Public Theater. It was so successful it made an early move to Broadway in July.

In 2016 they awarded Hamilton the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and that year it received an outstanding 16 Tony nominations, which rarely happens. Lin-Manuel earned several nods, including best actor in a leading role in a musical. The production eventually won 11 Tonys, falling one short of the record. They named Hamilton best musical, and Lin-Manuel won for best book and best original score. 

On March 15, 2016, members of the cast of Hamilton performed at the White House and hosted workshops; Lin-Manuel performed freestyle rap from prompts held up by President Obama. Later In 2016, Miranda and Jeremy McCarter published Hamilton: The Revolution, a book describing Hamilton’s journey from idea to Broadway success. In July 2016 Lin-Manuel appeared for the last time in the show.

The following year the musical opened in London’s West End, where it was a critical and commercial success. It won seven Olivier Awards, including best new play. In addition, Lin-Manuel garnered the award for outstanding achievement in music. 

In 2017 Hurricane Maria hit the Carribean Islands. It was the worst recorded hurricane in history in that area of the world. Many lives and property was lost.  To help, Lin-Manuel briefly returned to his role as Alexander Hamilton in Puerto Rico and used the money made from the shows to help the people there. Lin-Manuel had been active in helping the people of Puerto Rico and the arts there over the years. 

Have you seen the Disney movie Moana? Lin-Manuel wrote the song “How Far I’ll Go” and sings parts of it. In the movie Mary Poppins Returns, he played Mary Poppins sidekick and chimney sweep, Bert. He also starred in the HBO TV series His Dark Materials. Today Lin-Manuel continues today to work on many projects with different studios, including Disney.

Lin-Manuel is an outstanding example of someone who found a talent he enjoyed and dedicated his life to improving it. Can you believe he spent a year working on the songs “Alexander Hamilton” and “My Shot”? Great things don’t come easy. Often they start off very imperfect and need to be worked on over and over until they improve with time and focus. He also wasn’t afraid to take risks by being original. Many of his close friends told him his idea for Alexander Hamilton wouldn’t work. A rap-musical about a founding father was a very unique and bold idea! But he kept working at it anyway until it was a great success!

Once Lin-Manuel reached fame and stardom, he didn’t only use the money he made for his own benefit. He has found many ways to give back to the communities he grew up in and places like Puerto Rico when it was hit by a devastating hurricane. He has also worked with charities that help children who are in foster care and are being adopted. 

What is something that you love to do? Think of what your next project might be related to your interests and set a goal. Plan out how you might work on that project each day until it becomes something better each time, so then you can share it like Lin-Manuel.

History of Albert Einstein for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine a short man with gray and white hair that sticks up off his head and grows in all directions. He has a big mustache and wears a coat that is rumpled, pants that are short, and socks that don’t match. But he has a kind smile on his face and deep, thoughtful eyes. This is what Albert Einstein looked like. And it might be easy to judge him by his funny appearance, but Einstein is one of the most famous scientists of all time. And many of his big ideas changed the world! But where did Albert Einstein come from? What was his childhood like? What was his life like? Listen closely, because it all starts in Ulm, Germany on March 14, 1879 when Albert was born.

Albert was quiet and very shy as a child. It took him longer to say his first words than most kids. His parents thought this meant there was something wrong with him. They took him to the doctor, but the doctor said everything was just fine. As a child, Albert liked to play by himself. He played with blocks and built towers of cards. He was very curious and often sat and just day-dreamed. His parents thought this meant he had some kind of problem, but really he just liked to sit and think and dream and make things on his own. 

Albert also liked the play the violin. Often he and his mother played together. Albert’s mind was always imagining and wondering about the world around him. He went to school, but wasn’t learning the things that interested him, so he started searching for answers on his own. He read and found many of his answers in books and by asking others. His parents began to see how curious and bright he was and appreciate his talents, even though he was quiet and shy. 

In high school, Albert struggled in school. Kids had to sit perfectly still, wear uniforms, and march in line. If they asked questions they were punished. His teachers told his parents he’d never do anything useful in life because he was so disobedient by asking questions and speaking out of turn. These years were very frustrating for Albert, because he was curious and wanted to learn. Math was one of his favorite subjects. His parents found a book about geometry, the study of shapes, and he taught it to himself. 

Eventually, Albert was told to leave his school, because he refused to stop asking questions and wouldn’t blindly obey his teachers. He moved with his family to Italy and there spent his time hiking in the mountains and learning on his own. He read about great scientists and astronomers like Copernicus and Galileo who had great ideas. But because their ideas were different than what was believed, they were treated poorly. Albert understood these scientists because he felt he was being treated the same way. In Italy, he wrote his first scientific paper, but it received very little attention because he was young and no one thought someone his age would have great ideas. In Italy, he decided to move to Zurich Switzerland to study physics.

There he loved the Swiss people and his new college. He was able to ask tough questions and talk about them with his classmates. There he met a woman named Mileva who was also a big thinker. They enjoyed their time together and were later married. 

In Switzerland, Albert started working at the patent office. When someone comes up with an idea for a new invention, they draw up the plans and get a patent — which means no one else can take their idea. Albert’s job was to read about all of the new inventions and approve them. He enjoyed this job and was able to work so fast that he could take off early and spend time hiking and thinking. These were some of Albert’s happiest years of his life. So many marvelous ideas came to him at this time. He started writing scientific papers about his ideas and published five of them. These included big ideas about space travel and electricity. Albert was known for wearing the same wrinkled clothes every day and didn’t comb his hair, so it stuck up all over the place. He liked to spend time deep in thought rather than taking care of himself. People began to know him for his big ideas and recognized him for his funny appearance.

As Albert became more popular, he finally got his dream job — teaching physics for the university. Now he was able to spend all of his time thinking and teaching his students. The students loved their quirky professor. He was able to take difficult ideas and explain them in a simple way.

One of his big ideas was called The Theory of Relativity. This idea was that all things move at different speeds except for light. Think about how as a car passes it’s moving at a different speed as it drives by. But if you’re inside the car it doesn’t appear to be moving at all. So speed is “relative” to where you are. Another example is that the Earth is flying around the sun and spinning at incredible speeds, but because you’re standing on the Earth it doesn’t appear to be moving at all.

 Another of Einstein’s big idea was that not only are the planets moving around the Sun, but the Sun is moving through the galaxy as well, it just doesn’t appear to move because our planet is moving around it.

Some funny things about Albert is that even though he was a scientific genius he was often absent-minded, which means he forgot simple things. For example, often when he went out he forgot his keys, lost his bags, and forgot to eat. He was so focused on what went on in his wonderful brain that he often didn’t consider what was going on around him. He found simpler ways to live his life, so he could focus all his energy on thinking. For example, he wore the same clothes every day and only buttoned his top button because it took less time and energy. He often wore socks that didn’t match, his clothes were rumpled and his hair stuck all over the place. But his fans loved it and people all over the world talked about this brilliant, quirky genius.

Albert’s next job took him back to Germany, but over the years he and his wife were growing apart. He was so busy being a professor and speaking around the world that he didn’t give Mileva and his children the time they needed. Mileva decided not to move him and they divorced. Albert admitted he was not always a good father and chose writing his papers and teaching over his family responsibilities. 

While Albert was living in Germany, World War I started. He was sad to see soldiers marching down the street because he knew what war did to people. He refused to support the war and the leaders of Germany were upset at him. He could have gone to jail, but he stood up for his beliefs anyway. When World War I ended Albert was very happy.

In Germany, Albert met a woman named Elsa. They grew close and she spent her time taking care of him, making sure he ate and shaved and didn’t lose his keys. They were married. Albert loved Elsa and she loved him. 

By this time, Albert was so popular it made his life difficult. You might think being popular is a great thing, but for people who are very famous, you can’t walk anywhere without people talking to you or wanting a picture or asking for your autograph. Albert loved being alone, so this was very hard for him. He was offered a lot of money to speak and do other things, but he refused. For him, his research and his ideas were more important than money or fame.

Sadly, new problems began in Germany. Albert Einstein was Jewish, which is a race and religion. Many Jews who lived in Germany wrote to Albert and asked him to defend them because they were being treated badly. Their shops were taken from them and they were often beaten up by non-Jews. The Nazis, who had taken control of Germany, falsely blamed all their problems on the Jewish people. They burned their books and many Jews started leaving Germany. Albert spoke out against the Nazis and refused to leave even though his life was at risk. Hitler, the powerful leader of the Nazis, said Albert was a spy and eventually Albert realized it was too dangerous for him to stay. He and Elsa moved to the United States and became a professor at Princeton University in New Jersey. 

Albert’s years at Princeton were hard. He was sad to see what was happening to Jews in Germany. Then sadly Elsa died. Albert often kept to himself and played his violin. He also didn’t have as many big ideas as when he was younger.

One of Albert’s most famous ideas was an equation, E = MC2. It basically said that all things are energy. Even the hard walls around you, your body, mass are energy, too, but just in a different form. He also had the idea that if an atom could be broken it would cause a HUGE explosion, called a nuclear explosion. He worried that the Nazis might create a nuclear bomb and use it against the United States and her Allies. Even though he hated the idea that such a weapon would ever be used, he wrote President Roosevelt and told him that the United States must create the bomb first. Eventually, the United States did create an atomic bomb and used it against its enemy Japan. For the rest of his life, Albert wondered whether he should have ever shared his ideas about a nuclear bomb. But he also thought the consequence of the Nazis making it first would be even worse. 

After World War II ended, Einstein spent many years speaking out against atomic bombs. The United States and Russia had made thousands of them and it made the world a very dangerous place. Fortunately, after World War II nuclear bombs were never used. 

Albert Einstein spent the last years of his life growing old while living in Princeton, New Jersey. His hair was now white and grew widely in all directions. He was still a quirky and funny sight to see with his rumpled, mismatched clothes. He continued to play his violin and go on walks around his home. He often stopped to help people in need or invite them into his home. He was a very gentle, kind person who had changed the world with his ideas but didn’t care about money or being famous. He just wanted the world to be a peaceful place. On April 17, 1955 Einstein passed away while thinking through a problem and writing equations on a piece of paper. To his last day, he was a thinker! 

Spend a moment thinking about what it was like to be Albert. When he was young he loved to go on walks and observe the world around him. He saw everything through the eyes of wonder and curiosity. The world to him was an exciting, mysterious place. He loved to understand how it worked and dream about how the parts he didn’t understand might work. His imagination led to some of his amazing ideas. You can wonder, too. Remember in the times when you might be bored, it’s ok to be bored. Say it out loud “it’s ok to bored!” When you’re bored, you can take a deep breath and look closely at the world around you. It’s the perfect chance to see things with new eyes. 

Even though Einstein became very famous, he didn’t care about having lots of money and expensive things. He wanted the world to be fair and peaceful. He also wasn’t perfect. No one really is. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Einstein wasn’t a very good father, but he ended up helping the world in many other ways. 

If you want to learn more about Albert Einstein we shared our favorite videos and books on our website, BedtimeHistoryStories.com. Be sure to check it out.

The Maya Angelou Story for Kids

Performing “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s Inauguration:

“Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

“Harlem Hopscotch” by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis Missouri. Her full name was Margeurite, but her older brother had trouble saying her name so he started calling her “Maya” for short. Maya’s parents had trouble getting along and when she was three they divorced. Her parents thought it would be better for her grandmother raised them instead, so they sent Maya and her brother on a train to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. They called their grandma Henderson “Momma.” Most of the people in Stamps were black and it was a segregated town. “Segregated” means that everyone who was black attended a different school, ate at their own restaurants, and lived in their own neighborhood. Maya’s grandmother and her son, Uncle Willy, owned a store in Stamps, and Maya and her brother, Bailey, lived in a room in the back of the store. 

Momma loved her grandchildren and took good care of them. She also wanted them to be responsible, so she taught them good manners and made them help at the store. Often Maya’s job was to sweep the floors. Their Uncle Willy taught them to read and believed they should have an education. It was at this time that Maya fell in love with words as she read new books. One of her favorite authors was William Shakespeare. Charles Dickens was another favorite.

While living in Stamps, Maya’s brother, Bailey, was her best friend. They spent all of their time working and playing and learning together. They loved to run in the woods and had lots of freedom. Bailey always stood up for Maya when people teased her or said mean things. She loved her older brother very much. 

In 1935 Maya’s father came to Stamps to bring them back to the city where he lived, St. Louis, Missouri. They weren’t used to the city but were glad to see their mother again who also lived there. St. Louis had a big library and Maya spent her free time checking out books and reading them at the library. Before this time Maya had a safe childhood, but when she was 7 she was hurt by her mother’s boyfriend. This horrible experience caused her to stop talking. No one knew what to do. Eventually, Maya and Baily moved back to Stamps to be with her Grandmother and Uncle Willy again. For five years Maya didn’t speak. Instead, she spent most of her time reading and writing.

In 1941 Maya’s Grandmother decided they needed to move back in with their mother who now lived in San Francisco, California, because the schools were better there. She and Bailey were now 13 and 14 and enjoyed the new city with the amazing Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars. Maya liked her new school and did well there. She spent her free time writing poems and her own stories. She also started taking singing and dancing lessons. But Bailey had a harder time in San Francisco and often got into trouble and ran away from home. Maya missed Bailey and this caused her to struggle in school. She decided to take a break and look for a job. In San Francisco people used cable cars on tracks to move all around the city. Maya applied to be a cable car conductor, the person who takes people’s tickets and helps them on the cable car. She ended up becoming the first African American cable conductor! After a semester of working, she decided to back to school. She also learned that Bailey joined the Navy and they wrote letters back and forth. She was happy to hear from her brother again.

In 1945, during her last year of high school, Maya had her first baby and named him Clyde Bailey after her brother. She and the father didn’t end up getting married, so Maya was left to raise Clyde on her own. For the next several years she worked as a waitress to earn enough money to take care of Clyde. She also worked at a music store and later as a Calypso dancer at a club called The Purple Onion. There she sang and danced for the audience. Performing before an audience made Maya very nervous, but she did it anyway and found she had a talent for it and got better and better as she continued to practice and improve her skill.

Soon people all over San Francisco were waiting in lines at The Purple Onion to watch Maya perform. Her name started showing up in the newspapers and on the radio. Her next big break was joining a touring group that performed a musical called Porgy and Bess. They traveled all over Europe and Africa, visiting 22 different countries to perform. Maya loved visiting foreign countries and while traveling began to learn other languages and write about the places she visited.

When the tour was done she returned home to be with her son and continued working as a dancer. But Maya knew her real love was writing poems and stories. She had many experiences in her life she wanted to share with others. While living in Los Angeles, she met a famous author, John Oliver Killens, who read some of her stories and encouraged her to move to New York, so she could share her own stories.

In New York City Maya joined the Harlem City Writer’s Guild, where writers met to share their stories and give each other advice. In New York Maya went to listen to a speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. He spoke about how people should be treated the same, no matter the color of their skin. Maya liked Martin Luther King, Jr. and helped put on a show to raise money for him and his cause, which was called the Civil Rights Movement. They believed that all people should be equal and treated the same. They wanted to end segregation. 

Maya continued to help with the Civil Rights Movements by writing and helping earn money for the cause. She later moved to Egypt to help with Civil Rights in Africa. There she wrote for a newspaper and met other famous Civil Rights Leaders like Malcolm X. 

Maya moved back to New York to continue writing and speaking about Civil Rights. There a famous black author and friend, James Baldwin, encouraged Maya to write her life’s story. This is called an autobiography. When Maya finished her autobiography in 1969 she gave it the title “I Know Why A Caged Bird Sings.” She gave it this title because many times in her life she felt like she was living in a cage, not always free to live and act the way she wanted. To Maya, this cage was racism and abuse. But her story was also hopeful, like the bird singing, because she believed that even when someone’s life is hard and painful they can still find joy and happiness. Her book, “I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings” was a huge success and soon many knew about Maya Angelou and her incredible life story. 

Maya continued to write. She wrote a book of poems and a screenplay for a movie. She starred in a musical on Broadway and a TV miniseries called “Roots” about the history of slavery in America. She was also married to a French cartoonist and writer. Her son was married and had a child of his own, so she became a grandmother. 

Maya wrote more books of poems and traveled and spoke and told her life story to inspire others and give them hope. She read her poems for three of the Presidents and in 2010 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive. 

In 2014 Maya died peacefully in her home in North Carolina. She was 86 years old and after her passing people all around the world spoke about how much they loved her and loved the words she wrote. Her life and actions and deeds were an inspiration to so many people over the years.

Maya once wrote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

And “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

She also wrote, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Finally, “If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.”

History of Athens and Sparta for Kids

Greek Parthenon

Close your eyes and imagine you’re walking down an ancient, stone road. In the distance, you hear music and the voices of people gathering and singing songs. You join the crowd along the road and slowly walk up a very tall hill. At the top of the hill is a magnificent white building supported by gigantic marble pillars. People are streaming into the building as they clap their hands, sing and celebrate. Inside the temple, you gaze up at an enormous statue of Athena, the greek god who protects your city. You place a wreath of flowers and food at her feet as an offering. Others around you do the same. Today is Panathenia, the festival celebrating Athena’s birthday. It’s the most important holiday of the year in the city of Athens.

Tonight we’re going to learn about Athens and Sparta, two of the earliest civilizations in Western History. Athens and Sparta were located in what is now known as Greece in Europe on the Mediterranean Sea. 

Around 2,500 years ago Greece had over 1,000 city-states. A city-state was like a very small country. Athens and Sparta were two of the most powerful. At the time the Persian Empire controlled Greece and many of the city-states. But the Greek city-states wanted to be free of Persian rule, so they went to war and eventually beat the Persians during the Battle of Marathon. After the Greco-Persian War Athens and Sparta grew in number of people and in wealth.

Even though they lived nearby each other, the people of Athens and Sparta couldn’t be more different. The people of Athens were known for their love of wisdom and subjects such as philosophy, history, science, and art. The word philosophy is a Greek word that means “love of wisdom.” The earliest and most famous philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were Greek. They spent their days studying the world around them and reflecting on their own thoughts. One of Socrates most famous quotes was an “unexamined life is not worth living,” which means we should focus on trying to understand our own thoughts and motivations and trying to make sense of the world around us. Inscribed on the Temple of Delphi were the words: “know thyself.” As we come to understand our own minds and intentions, we can improve ourselves and likewise the world around us. The philosopher Aristotle was known for studying nature and making observations about it. He was fascinated by the world around him. 

During its Golden Age Athens formed one of the first democratic governments, which means large groups of people made decisions for their city-state rather than a single ruler. This style of government was ahead of its time and later influenced the democratic governments we enjoy today, ruled by the people instead of a king. One of their leaders was named Pericles. Pericles was a talented speaker who loved wisdom and was known for thinking rationally, which means making decisions based on truth rather than strong emotions. The people loved Pericles and he led them to make good decisions for Athens. Most children were able to attend school and taxes were used to make the city a better place. The Athenians built beautiful temples to the Greek gods. The Parthenon was the most famous temple whose ruins can still be seen today on Acropolis Hill. Inside the Parthenon, they built sculptures of the goddess Athena and Zeus, the god of sky and thunder. 

The Athenians wrote stories about their gods, which became known as Greek Mythology. Each of the gods had personalities and behaved like humans. Sometimes they were angry, sometimes they were happy, and even threw parties. In the stories, the gods fought wars and often used humans to do the fighting for them. The Athenians used their gods to explain acts of nature like hurricanes and the crash of thunder. The stories often also included moral stories to teach how people should behave. Some of the other well-known gods were Poseidon, god of the sea, Hera, goddess of marriage and family, and Ares, god of war. 

The theater was also very popular in Athens. The people loved to gather and watch plays and listen to songs and music. Some of the great playwrights of the time were Sophocles, Euripedes, Aeschylus (ES-kul-us), and Aristophane. 

The Athenians loved art and wisdom, but to protect themselves and secure their freedoms, they also built a powerful navy. A navy was important because Greece was located on the Mediterranean Sea and surrounded by islands and other coastal city-states, which often attacked each other. Athen’s navy was made up of triremes (tri-remes), huge wooden warships that carried 170 rowers manning 3 banks of oars. The ships were 100 feet long and 20 feet wide. At one point Athens had over 400 warships and 80,000 sailors that protected their coasts. All young men joined the military when they were 18.

Athens wasn’t the only powerful city-state in Greece at the time. Sparta was another very powerful city-state, but they couldn’t be more different than their neighbors. The Spartans were ruled by two kings and a small group of leaders who controlled the people by force. They prized military strength above all else. They were all about being strong and dangerous — a true warrior society. At the age of 7, Spartans joined a military school called the Agoge (ah-go-gey), that trained to be tough and fierce. They went everywhere barefoot, so their feet could be strong. They ate bland food and wore uncomfortable clothes to toughen them. They learned how to wrestle and fight as soldiers. They were taught self-control and to be courageous in the face of danger. All Spartans were expected to devote their lives to their city-state above all their personal wants and needs.

Sparta was made up of three groups: the Spartans, who were full citizens and full-time soldiers, the Helots, who were slaves to the Spartans, and the Perioeci (peer-ee-oh-see), skilled craftsmen who built things such as homes and weapons of war.

Spartan soldiers were called hoplites. In battle, they wore bronze helmets, breastplates, and red cloaks. They carried large round shields, and a spear or sword. They were truly fierce warriors and were known for their tight fighting formation called a phalanx. In a phalanx, hoplites stood close together with their shields overlapping to form a single wall of armor. Then they attacked together as one body. 

One of the most famous Spartans was King Leonidas, who led his army against the Persians in the Battle of Thermopylae. According to Greek historians, when Leonidas saw they were losing he sent most of his troops home, but stayed with 300 soldiers to fight a much larger army of Persians for three days. Leonidas and the other Spartans fought bravely, but the Persians found a way around them and eventually won. Even though Leonidas and his army lost, they would forever be remembered for their courage to continue fighting even when they were outnumbered.  

Spartan women were known for being strong-minded and independent. They were also expected to be fit and physically strong. They received some education and competed in games such as javelin throwing and wrestling. They also enjoyed dancing and singing and were able to own their own property, which wasn’t common in other parts of Greece.

Sadly, Sparta and Athens didn’t get along. As they grew more powerful, Athens tried to control the other city-states like Sparta, who wouldn’t stand for it. In 431 B.C. Sparta and its allies attacked Athens in what became known as The Peloponnesian War. Athens had a strong navy, but Sparta was stronger on land and besieged Athens. A siege is when one army surrounds the city of its enemy. During the siege a plague also hit Athens and many of its people didn’t survive, making the city even weaker. Surprisingly, Athens survived the siege, but the war went on another 15 years. Athens tried to use its navy to beat Sparta, but in 405 B.C. the Spartan general Lysander and his armies finally beat Athen’s navy and besieged the city once again. This time they conquered. Athens had to surrender and join the new Spartan Empire. 

Eventually Sparta faced its own problems, like the revolt of its slave class who didn’t want to be ruled anymore. By around 300 B.C. the more powerful empire of Alexander the Great conquered Greece and the Sparta, too. 

Even though Athens lost the war against Sparta, their ideas about philosophy and history and science and art spread throughout Greece and beyond. Later the Roman Empire admired Greek thought and culture and it’s beautiful sculptures were admired through the ages. During the Renaissance Greek culture was rediscovered by the Italians and once again the philosophy of Socrates and Plato was read. In fact, you can read their writings today and they have formed the foundation of modern philosophy.

Tonight think about the values of each of these amazing groups of people. Neither were perfect, but you can take what is best about them and apply it to your own life. The Athenians loved the mind and wisdom. What does it mean to you to “know yourself”? Spend some time thinking about your own thoughts and why you do things or maybe why you were upset about something the other day. As you come to know yourself first, you can better manage yourself, and in turn help those around you.

Also think about Aristotle and how curious he was about the world around him. He studied every living thing he saw: the sky, the trees, the birds and other animals. He made observations about them and continued learning and sharing his ideas with others. 

The Greeks loved beauty and found ways to express it through their sculptures. You could do the same by drawing beautiful things around you.

The Spartans were dangerous and aggressive, but we can take their values of courage, strength and apply them to ourselves. Spartan children didn’t always get what they wanted, this taught them to have self-control. Sometimes when we get everything we want, we don’t appreciate things as much. They also found ways to strengthen their bodies by running and swimming and doing sports. It’s important to keep your own body strong and healthy. Think of ways you can be physically fit like a Spartan.

Spartans also had courage and continued to fight even when they were outnumbered. The struggles you face may not always be physical, it may just be a problem you’re trying to solve or something you’re trying to be better at, but you can continue trying and persevering even when it seems like you can’t win.

May you have the mind and heart of an Athenian and the strength and courage of a Spartan! 

History of Hayao Miyazaki & Studio Ghibli for Kids

Do you like animated movies? Have you ever seen Ponyo or My Neighbor Totoro? These are beautiful, hand-drawn, animated films made by Studio Ghibli and it’s brilliant artist and director Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki has become one of the most celebrated film animators and directors of our day, but his beginnings were small and simple and as you’ll learn sometimes fraught with danger during the years of World War 2.

Hayao Miyazaki was born in Tokyo Japan on January 5, 1941. Japan is an island across the Pacific Ocean from the United States and located in East Asia. The same year Hayao was born, Japan and the United States went to war. Hayao’s worked in a factory that built airplane parts for Japan’s air force, specifically for the fast and agile Zero fighter planes. For the rest of his life Hayao was fascinated by airplanes and the wonder of flight.

Over time Japan began to lose the war against the United States and her Allies. Soon American bombers were flying over Japan and dropping bombs on its people to try and end the war. Hayao remembered seeing the bombers and hearing bombs drop nearby. His family left the city for safety until the war ended. He would forever remember the horrible days of World War 2 and what it did to his own country. 

Young Hayao loved to draw. He wanted to become a manga artist. In Japan cartoons and comics are called manga. Hayao spent his free time practicing, but he always struggled to draw people. So instead he practiced drawing his favorite subjects like planes, tanks and battleships. He also liked to copy the drawings of his favorite manga artists. While in Junior High he saw an animated movie called Panda and the Magic Serpent. He loved the art and animation and it made him want to animate his own movies.

In college he studied politics and economics, but in his free time joined an art club and spent time drawing and getting to know other artists. 

In 1963 Hayao got his first animation job at Toei Animation and helped as an artist. His first film was called Doggie March and he also worked on a television series called Wolf Boy Ken. He continued to learn and grow as an animator, and was mentored by many other great animators. A mentor is someone who is a master at a craft and teaches someone who is an apprentice and still learning. Hayao and his mentor Yasuo Ōtsuka worked on a film called “The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun” that won them many awards. 

At Toei Animation Hayao worked alongside a woman named Ōta Akemi. They shared many of the same interests and a year after meeting, they got married. Ota would continue to work with Hayao in animation and his future businesses. 

Hayao Miyazaki continued to work on many animated films and many of his own comics, continually improving his craft. Often when you see amazing works of art or animation you may think “Wow, that artist must be really good because she was just born to be a very good artist.” But this is not the case. Great artists are not born they are made. They are passionate about a subject and continually practice and practice, usually every day, until they are much better. Like Hayao, they often find a mentor and find projects, and improve little by little until they are very good at what they do. This is the path Hayao took.

In 1979 Miyazaki moved to Telecom Animation Film, where he directed his first film. A director may work on the art, but often their job is to help bring all the different workers together to make the film happen. Also, a director may write the story themselves, or find someone to help them. They often have the idea first and recruit artists to help draw all of the animations. If you’ve ever seen an orchestra, they are like the orchestra director who isn’t playing the music, but brings everyone together to make the magic happen! This is what Hayao Miyazaki did for the film The Castle of Cagliostro, which became a hit in Japan and in the United States. John Lassetter, who later became a director at Pixar, has said that The Castle of Cagliostro was one of the first films that influenced him.

Hayao’s next big idea was to create an animated film about a princess named Naussica and her battle to save her homeland. But because movies usually weren’t made until the comic was successful, Hayao began to work on the manga about Naussica first. It ended up becoming a seven-volume manga totaling over 1000 pages and was called “Naussica and the Valley of the Wind.” Next, Hayao started work on the animated film. Audiences loved the film! In it Naussica has a fox-squirrel pet named Teto and uses her small glider to fly about. Her world is polluted and poisoned, but with the help of her friends fights to restore it to its natural beauty. Like many of Hayao’s later films, this one featured a strong heroine and themes about the dangers of pollution and war, both very important to Hayao. You’ll also notice it includes flying, which fascinated Hayao from a young age.

In 1985, Hayao with his friends Takahata, Tokuma and Suzuki founded Studio Ghibli (Jib-lee) and the next year created their first film “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” about a orphan girl named Sheeta and a boy named Pazu from a mining town. Together they go on an adventure that involves a gigantic city in the sky called Laputa. “Castle in the Sky” became the highest-grossing Japanese film that year. Studio Ghibli’s next films were “My Neighbor Totoro,” which is one my kids’ all time favorites, and Grave of the Fireflies. Later came Kiki’s Delivery Service about a friendly witch, a few others in between, and then Princess Mononoke, which became another high-grossing Japanese film year. In 2001 came Spirited Away, which won awards in Japan and the U.S. Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Even though all of Studio Ghibli’s films were originally in Japanese, most of them were translated into other languages like English so others could enjoy them as well. 

A few other popular films by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, and The Wind Rises. The Wind Rises tells the story of the engineer who built the Zero, a Japanese fighter plane, the same one his father helped build when Hayao was a child in Japan. The Wind Rises, like many of Hayao’s other films, is a warning about the devastating effects of war, especially on the innocents, like he and his family during World War 2. 

In September 2013 Hayao announced he would be retiring and instead focus his time on creating artwork for a Studio Ghibli museum. But everyone knew Hayao knew he wouldn’t rest for long. He began to learn how to use computers to animate and even at his age, when most people think they can no longer learn new skills, Hayao struggled through the process and created his first computer animation called Boro the Caterpillar. Instead of retiring, he has continued working on a new film called How Do You Live? 

My children and I have watched most of the Studio Ghibli films and love them for many reasons. First of all, we love the adventure stories and the wild, exotic places they take us. We also appreciate the hand-drawn animation. Because most films use computer graphics now, it’s impressive to see animations that are sketched and colored by hand. We also love the music, which is often played by classical instruments and is relaxing. While some of the movies have violence, they are often less noisy and over-stimulating than most computer-animated movies. If you’re looking for Studio Ghibli movies that are appropriate for younger kids, our family recommends My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Whisper of the Heart, The Cat Returns and Ponyo.

Something else I love about his films is that they remind us that people are imperfect. His characters don’t always make the right decisions and make mistakes. Also, his villains aren’t always completely bad. Often they are someone who is misunderstood and once the main characters come to know the villain, they end up becoming friends. 

Watching the colorful portrayed in his films also reminds us that we live in a beautiful world and need to do everything we can to keep it that way. Life is precious and problems such as pollution and war only harm it. 

Hayao once said, “I get inspiration from my everyday life.”

He also said: “You may not like what’s happening, but just accept it, and let’s try to live together. Even if you feel angry, let’s be patient and endure, let’s try to live together. I’ve realized that this is the only way forward.”

And “Always believe in yourself. Do this and no matter where you are, you will have nothing to fear.”